Morality and character

In society today, we hear of and are exposed to crime, infidelities and prejudice. Now many of us do not part take in these “bad” things. But just knowing that these things are happening in the world every day, makes us consciously aware that on one day or another, we are going to get a patient who actually does. Now I think it is when we allow these “bad’ things to bother us by being a victim to it or scared of becoming a victim of it that makes us start treating these people differently.

Our morals and behavior often originate from how we are brought up – whether in a religious home, or in a home where we do not part take in any religious doctrines. What we are therefore exposed to is how we learn to deal with things – experience is key. We look at ethics as structural guidelines, rules or laws for how people should interact but ethics can change more easily based on external societal factors and pressures. The difference between ethics and morals can be reflected in the example of an attorney’s ethical duty to defend someone he believes to be a murderer although that same attorney is morally opposed to murder. Another example is that abortion is legal and therefore medically ethical but many find it immoral. Therefore the view of what is “right” and “wrong” is a constant factor in our lives.

So, the way I see it, with regards to health care, some feel that it is a moral obligation to provide health care to everyone – no matter the cost and no matter who pays for it or who the person is. Now we have these many codes of conduct that tell us how we should treat patients and how we as professionals should behave… right? But then one should question are we only treating our patients fairly and ethically because we are bound by these codes of conduct or are we actually doing it because we are naturally like that?

Everyone has different beliefs and many people are against the bad ways of society and wish that rapists would die or that gangsters be sent to prison for life for example, because once the bad are gone, society will be a better place. I have thought like that before because how can these people be treated so well after everything that they have done? As a physiotherapist, it’s hard not to go deep into your patients life and lifestyle. Maybe not knowing their bad ways will makes us more willing to treat them? It’s a question I ponder on a lot now.

To share an experience I had during my clinical blocks… A 32 year women (she looked 50) came into the outpatients department with her boyfriend and little daughter. She smelt like alcohol and so did her boyfriend and her daughter had very strange ways (delayed, hyper, skill eyes). The patient had ataxic gait and poor sensation in her feet… of what I was told – her condition was known as alcohol induced ataxia. You drink literally yourself into a coma for years until you get to this stage where you can’t walk. During my subjective, I asked her does she drink and she lied and said she stopped 2 months ago. Now I asked myself, is it fair to treat someone who lies to you? Fair to treat someone who is engaging in behavior that is making your treatment even harder or useless? Fair to treat someone engaging in behavior that you deem as wrong, especially as a mother? In this position I thought of all these things but then I realised that it is her life. I am providing a service to society, it is not my position to judge her or any other patient because I may not know what they are going through.

Reality comes down to what you see as right and wrong, but sometimes it should come from your side to be right and treat, rather than wrong and judge. You are bound by the law, your code of conduct and ethics, but you are also bound by your character… Yes, It’s a conflicting and difficult task, but you can decide the person and professional you want to be.


3 thoughts on “Morality and character

  1. Great blog post… agree with you on all points. “What we are therefore exposed to is how we learn to deal with things – experience is key. We look at ethics as structural guidelines, rules or laws for how people should interact but ethics can change more easily based on external societal factors and pressures” – true that. Thanks for posting 🙂

  2. Pingback: Week 2: Reflection | Chantelle van den Berg

  3. Hi Theoca. Thanks for sharing your personal feelings about the patient you encountered. I know that it can be difficult to remain neutral when you have such a strong emotional response to the patient’s lifestyle. I often try to remind myself in those situations, that I have no idea what drove her to take the decisions she did. I remind myself that, for some people in this country, reality is so bleak and cold and harsh, that escaping from that reality into a bottle may be the only option they can see. Imagine having so social support, no steady job, no physical and psychological security, no real independence…what would I do to deal with that kind of situation? How long would I have lasted before I try to escape?

    The point I’m trying to make is that empathy is more than tolerating the choices people have made. It’s about really trying to understand them. No little girl grows up wanting to be a drunken mother. How has society failed her in creating a situation where she felt that that was her only option?

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